Spellwright

Prologue

The grammarian was choking to death on her own words.

And they were long sharp words, written in a magical language and crushed into a small, spiny ball. Her legs faltered. She fell onto her knees.

Cold autumn wind surged across the tower bridge.

The creature standing beside her covered his face with a voluminous white hood. “Censored already?” he rasped. “Disappointing.”

The grammarian fought for breath. Her head felt as light as silk; her vision burned with gaudy color. The familiar world became foreign.

She was kneeling on a stone bridge, seven hundred feet above Starhaven’s walls. Behind her, the academy’s towers stretched into the cold evening sky like a copse of giant trees. At various heights, ribbon-thin bridges spanned the airy gaps between neighboring spires. Before her loomed the dark Pinnacle Mountains.

Dimly, she realized that her confused flight had brought her to the Spindle Bridge.

Her heart began to kick. From here the Spindle Bridge arched a lofty half-mile away from Starhaven to terminate in a mountain’s sheer rock face. It led not to a path or a cave, but to blank stone. It was a bridge to nowhere, offering no chance of rescue or escape.

She tried to scream, but gagged on the words caught in her throat.

To the west, above the coastal plain, the setting sun was staining the sky a molten shade of incarnadine.

The creature robed in white sniffed with disgust. “Pitiful what passes for imaginative prose in this age.” He lifted a pale arm. Two golden sentences glowed within his wrist.

“You are Magistra Nora Finn, Dean of the Drum Tower,” he said. “Do not deny it again, and do not refuse my offer again.” He flicked the glowing sentences into Nora’s chest.

She could do nothing but choke.

“What’s this?” he asked with cold amusement. “Seems my attack stopped that curse in your mouth.” He paused before laughing, low and breathy. “I could make you eat your words.”

Pain ripped down her throat. She tried to gasp.

The creature cocked his head to one side. “But perhaps you’ve changed your mind?”

With five small cracks, the sentences in her throat deconstructed and spilled into her mouth. She fell onto her hands and spat out the silver words. They shattered on the cobblestones. Cold air flooded into her greedy lungs.

“And do not renew your fight,” the creature warned. “I can censor your every spell with this text.”

She looked up and saw that the figure was now holding the golden sentence that ran into her chest. “Which of your students is the one I seek?”

She shook her head.

The creature laughed. “You took our master’s coin, played the spy for him.”

Again, she shook her head.

“Do you need more than gold?” He stepped closer. “I now possess the emerald and so Language Prime. I could tell you the Creator’s first words. You’d find them…amusing.”

“No payment could buy me for you,” Nora said between breaths. “It was different with master; he was a man.”

The creature cackled. “Is that what you think? That he was human?”

The monster’s arm whipped back, snapping the golden sentence taut. The force of the action yanked Nora forward onto her face. Again pain flared down her throat. “No, you stupid sow,” he snarled. “Your former master was not human!”

Something pulled up on Nora’s hair, forcing her to look at her tormentor. A breeze was making his hood ruffle and snap. “Which cacographer do I seek?” he asked.

She clenched her fists. “What do you want with him?”

There was a pause. Only the wind dared make noise. Then the creature spoke. “Him?”

Involuntarily, Nora sucked in a breath. “No,” she said, fighting to make her voice calm. “No, I said ‘with